by Shashwati Talukdar
Waiting for the bus to Jalandhar from Ludhiana felt like we were in a hiphop video. There was the sound of the bus station, the rush of people, and the star of the show – the conductor of the bus to Phagwara who was rustling up passengers for the ride.
At some point he realized that he had an audience and he obliged — striding up and down with just a right swing of the scarf, and the tilt to the head. The man was a performer and a star. And, we were an appreciative audience taking fan photos!
We couldn’t quite pin down the particularities of this masculine display, but it did remind me of my recent obsession with the Guru Ram Rai Durbar murals. Some of the finest examples of the mural paintings are portraits done in Mughal court style. How would have men (and all the portraits were of men) who looked like this have been understood by someone looking at these images in the 18th century? Definitely as eminent men with Mirzā’ī. That certain something that demarcated nobility as possessing qualities of loyalty, kindness, courage and spirituality. Qualities that were publicly displayed in how men dressed and presented themselves. Here is a piece from the larger film about this display of Mirzā’ī.
While how masculinity was coded in North India, differed among the Mughals, Marathas, Sikhs etc, they shared a pool of values and ideals. And how masculinity is codified may change over time, but the necessity of coding it never does. Nor does its public display. Mirzā’ī may have been transformed into Hip Hop. But our conductor man was channeling a long history of public expressions of North Indian men performing their gender.
(Go here for the first post in the series)